After being virtually free of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, a number of Wetumpka Health and Rehab residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to NHS Management spokesperson Joe Perkins, 34 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those 34, only two are symptomatic.

"What we have done as a matter of extreme precaution in many of our nursing homes (managed by NHS Management) is we've gone to a very high level of testing," Perkins said. "We tested this past week at Wetumpka (Health and Rehab) and we got the results back to show we had 34 positives. Of those two, only two were symptomatic." 

"For the other 32, we would not have known it at all if it weren't for testing. W'ere doing testing over the top."

Perkins said this testing was done on only one wing of the facility but officials are considering testing the entire home. If any suspicion arises in other areas of the home, residents will be tested right away. Perkins explained there was reason to test this particular wing, as two employees independently were tested for COVID-19 and tested positive.

"Once we find any suspicion at all in a section of one of our facilities then we will test that specific area," Perkins said. 

Perkins said those two employees never came back to work after receiving a positive result and will be quarantined for 14 days and not allowed to return until they have a double negative test for the virus. Perkins explained as part of NHS protocol employees are already isolated to particular areas as it is.

Perkins said families were notified last week by phone about the two positive employees and that's what initiated testing. Perkins originally told The Herald on Monday night no employees tested positive, but he clarified on Tuesday and explained this was simply something that was lost in the shuffle of exchanging information.

"Those employees were not tested through our testing performed at the facility," Perkins said. "They were tested on their own and told us they were positive. By the end of (Wednesday), we will have tested all of our employees at the facility."

Perkins also said all employees go through a screening process before entering the facility for their shifts.

Perkins said he is not aware of any COVID-19-related deaths at the facility.

Extreme measures have been taken throughout the pandemic at Wetumpka Health and Rehab and all of NHS Management's affiliated facilities, but now more protocol comes into play.

"We're following all the protocols," Perkins said. "Those who have tested positive will be isolated. One of the things we try to do if we see any sign of the virus in the facility is we work extremely aggressively to isolate it."

Perkins said the facility will take care of those who test positive and isolate them from those who have not been exposed. Although only two residents are showing symptoms, Perkins said they — along with the other residents — will be closely monitored to be transferred to another facility for a higher level of care if necessary. 

"We're extremely vigilant," Perkins said. "We will be very aggressive trying to fight this virus and stop it."

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there have cumulatively been 270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Elmore County and seven related deaths, as of 6:10 p.m. according to Alabama Department of Public Health. There have been 63 new cases reported in Elmore County in the last six days. 

Santana Wood is the interim managing editor of TPI's newspapers.